Darker Than Blue: A New Theodicy of Anti-Racism? (Part II)

And he took the blind man by the hand, and led him out of the town; and when he had spit on his eyes, and put his hands upon him, he asked him if he saw ought. And he looked up, and said, I see men as trees, walking. After that he put his hands again upon his eyes, and made him look up: and he was restored, and saw every man clearly―Mark 8:23-25

A feeling of inferiority? No, a feeling of nonexistence. Sin is Negro as virtue is white. All those white men in a group, guns in their hands, cannot be wrong. I am guilty. I do not know of what, but I know that I am no good.―Frantz Fanon

So, we may ask the question what is distinctive about anti-black racism, and why has it emerged as the dominant narrative informing our understanding of contemporary racism?

Frantz Fanon’s existential phenomenology offers a window into the “fact of blackness” in Black Skin White Masks, capturing the reality of the black condition in ways many blacks today consider to be the inescapable reality of anti-black racism, in a world blighted by “white supremacy.” Our opening quote is a visceral illustration of that. Fanon borrows this vignette, from Richard Wrights novel, Native Son, of its twenty year-old protagonist, Bigger Thomas. Bigger, who lives with his mother, sister and brother in a shabby, rat infested apartment on the South Side of Chicago, known as the “Black Belt”, has lived a life defined by the fear and anger he has internalised towards whites. The shame of poverty reflected back to him by the constant bombardment of popular culture’s representation of blacks as subservient and savage, in contrast to whites being sophisticated and privileged, leave him feeling emotionally bereft and socially inadequate.

Earlier in the same passage, Fanon wrestles with the ontological paradoxes of blackness, drawing parallels between anti-Semitism and anti-black racism, citing Sartre in Anti-Semite and Jew (p.95), he writes: “ They [the Jews] have allowed themselves to be poisoned by the stereotype that others have of them, and they live in fear that their acts will correspond to this stereotype…We may say that their conduct is perpetually overdetermined from the inside.” In response to Sartre, Fanon on the basis of his own subjective experience, arrives at a different outcome: “Granted, the Jews are harassed …what am I thinking of ? They are hunted down, exterminated, cremated. But these are little family quarrels. the Jew is disliked from the moment he is tracked down. But in my case everything takes on a new guise. I am given no chance. I am overdetermined from without. I am the slave not of the “idea” that others have of me but of my own appearance.”(p.260).

Fanon’s concern with the dialectical relationship between invisibility and visibility―a consequence of anti-black racism, is inextricably linked to the historical struggles of black people for recognition. As we have seen in Part I of this essay, the dynamics of racial formation have shaped the constitution of racial subjectivity for racial and ethnic minorities by the essential trait of skin colour: the darker the skin, the greater the subordination. Fanon has already identified this phenomenon as “overdetermination”― in that “black people are faced with the dilemma that the principal mode of personal progress and self-elevation open to them is precisely through self-denial, through effacement, the obliteration of blackness” (Goldberg, 1996, p.185). Consequently, in the eyes of anti-black racists, “There is no black autobiography in anti-black worlds” (Gordon 1995, p.30).

Arguably, Fanon’s work has been foundational to critical race theory, in shaping understanding about the effects and affects of anti-black racism and its concomitant violence against black people.

More recently, the BLM protests seem to have shifted focus from the death of George Floyd to the toppling of statues and monuments, and the dismantling of western Christian theodicy considered coterminously, symbols of―and the ideology underpinning―white supremacy. Although not a new development in the artillery of black resistance, the UK Reparation movement, also known as ARM UK, was formed in 1993, following the Abuja Proclamation declared at the First Pan-African Conference on Reparations, in Abuja, Nigeria in the same year. The conference was convened by the Organisation of African Unity and the Nigerian government. Alongside the revival of interest in BLM, ironically, the Reparations Movement which has long been ignored by the mainstream media, is now championed as a cause célèbre. For example see, It’s time for Britain to think seriously about reparations for slavery, Amandla Thomas-Johnson in (The Guardian June 10, 2020).

It is not clear from media accounts to what extent today’s Black Lives Matter activists are aware of the historical trajectory of black movements in the UK, and the legal basis and argument put forward for Reparations, as a result of the Transatlantic Slave Trade, by Anthony Gifford QC . I sat in the house of Lords in 1996 as he delivered this historical speech (along with family and friends, and some of those considered at the time, to be some of the Labour Party’s key supporters of ARM UK―Jeremy Corbyn, Diane Abbot, Linda Bellos, Bernie Grant). The document, has gathered much dust over the years, and in 2012, the news of the Church of England’s apology, for its role in the Transatlantic slave trade, demonstrated that Tony Gifford had been way ahead of his time (as I believed at that time). He had also taught me, a master class in what it meant to embrace life as a conscious pariah in the presence of a hostile crowd, and the value of standing firm on ones convictions. Needless to say, it was still dispiriting to look on as some of his peers in the House of Lord’s, routinely mocked, and jeered, dismissing the speech with complete incredulity and utter contempt. Here is a snapshot of that legal argument By Lord Anthony Gifford, British Queens Counsel and Jamaican Attorney-at-Law developed delivered at a Pan-African conference in Abuja:

The legal basis for the claim:

i. Introduction

1. The enslavement of Africans was a crime against humanity

2. International law recognises that those who commit crimes against humanity must make reparation

3. There is no legal, barrier to prevent those who still suffer the consequences of crimes against humanity from claiming reparations, even though the crimes were committed against their ancestors

4. The claim would be brought on behalf of all Africans, in Africa and in the Diaspora, who suffer the consequences of the crime, through the agency of an appropriate representative body

5. The claim would be brought against the governments of those counties which promoted and were enriched by the African slave trade and the institution of slavery

6. The amount of the claim would be assessed by experts in each aspect of life and in each region, affected by the institution of slavery

7. The claim, if not settled by agreement, would ultimately be determined by a special international tribunal recognised by all parties

My views have changed since then, and my thoughts about reparations are now informed by my Christian faith, which I hope to share in another essay exploring, reflexivity and testimony, as ethnographies of the soul.

Having once been located at the heart and soul of these struggles as an academic on the Left, I find myself struggling to write about how something which I once held so sincerely, metamorphosised into a caricature of all that I had once thought it could be. Particularly, what I had considered, the potential for radical black liberatory movements to transform the lives of black people, now hijacked by opportunists, celebrities, Leftist/Liberal elites, and increasingly, a band of apparatchik co-religionists, promoting their own nefarious political agendas. But as I matured in my walk as a Christian and my vocation as an academic, it became clear to me, that this mode of liberation and its worldview did not offer a balm for the spiritual maladies that plagued my own heart; nor did they satiate my souls yearning after freedom. And contrary to the black feminist icon, Lorde, I have come to learn that, “Unless the LORD builds the house, They labor in vain who build it; Unless the LORD guards the city, The watchman stays awake in vain” (Psalm 127:1). I think Thomas Oden in The Transforming Power of Grace, captures this journey of disassembling, well:

Protestant Christianity, whether in its liberal or conservative garb, finds itself waking up each morning in bed with a deteriorating modern culture, between sheets with a raunchy sexual reductionism, despairing scientism, morally normless cultural relativism, and self-assertive individualism. We remain resident aliens, OF the world but not profoundly in it, dining at the banquet table of waning modernity without a whisper of table grace. We all wear biblical name tags (Joseph, David, and Sarah), but have forgotten what our Christian names mean.

At any rate, I did not want to teach students how to transgress, but rather, as God’s providence would have it, in arresting and wresting me from my own transgressions, I had been ordained for peace. It is the truth I came to learn from the Master Liberator himself: this is how I set captives free.

Decolonisation and liberation

After all, what makes any event important, unless by its observation we become better and wiser, and learn ‘to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly before God’? To those who are possessed of this spirit there is scarcely any book of incident so trifling that does not afford some profit, while to others the experience of ages seems of no use; and even to pour out to them the treasures of wisdom is throwing the jewels of instruction away.

Olaudah Equiano

Reflexivity and Damascus conversions aside, the call for reparations within the BLM movement is coupled with the demand for the dismantling of the theodicy of colonial Christianity, currently translated in new anti-racist speak, as “white supremacist evangelical Christianity.”

This begs the question, can anti-racism do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God?

The literature on antiracism within the humanist secular worldview is vast and its contemporary cannon, exemplified by popular works such as Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility (which I have not yet read), continue to promote a paradigm of anti-racism based on white guilt, that amount to an oversimplified dynamic of white oppressors and black victims. There is also a substantial body of scholarship in the social sciences, social work, and education (some of which I have critically reviewed in my own doctoral research and have shared some of these references in Part I of this essay), that critique and document this approach.

In a recent review of DiAngelo’s book, Samuel Sey writes, “In anti-racism ideology, racism isn’t an enticing sin, it’s an entity—or as DiAngelo references in the book—“an omnipresent phenomenon.” And by that definition of racism, it’s not difficult to notice the religious overtones of anti-racism.” While some may frown upon Sey’s theological tone, I must confess my indebtedness to Sey, for relieving me from the task of having my soul cudgelled into the darker recesses of racialised ressentiment. As far as I have been able to glean from some of the reviews and articles I have read about White Fragility, Sey, rightly identifies the simplistic nature of this particular model of anti-racism—prejudice plus power equals: white racism—and its implications for Christianity. In doing so, he adds to a growing body of critiques that have pointed out the incompatibility of anti-racist approaches, rooted in the secular worldview of critical race theory, with that of a biblical worldview of justice.

Evidently, ideas about anti-black racism promulgated by the more cultic strains of the anti-racist high priests, are in danger of promoting a skewed picture of the contemporary reality of blacks, that consists of an ubiquitous all consuming white racism. Overwhelmingly, it casts black people as victims, thus denying diversity of perspectives and individual agency. Strangely, this has become the dominant orthodoxy in challenging racism, within a wider framework of intersectional social justice. Along with this iteration of anti-racism, comes all the rejoicing of the false religion of Lo-Debar (a thing of nought), including the very same idolatries of which it charges western oppressors. The pitting of the identity gods against one another, is subjected to futility in a zero-sum game of power.

Central to the struggle against anti-black racism, is the project of decolonisation. In the concluding chapter of Wretched of The Earth, Fanon writes:

Yet it is very true that we need a model, and that we want blueprints and examples. For many among us the European model is the most inspiring. We have therefore seen in the preceding pages to what mortifying set-backs such an imitation has led us. European achievements, European techniques and the European style ought no longer to tempt us and to throw us off our balance.

The philosopher, Lewis R. Gordon also writes:

Rationalizations of Western thought often led to a theodicy of Western civilization, of Western civilization as a system that was complete on all levels of human life, on levels of description (what is) and prescription (what ought to be), of being and value, while its incompleteness, its failure to be so, lived by those constantly being crushed under its heels, remained a constant source of anxiety often in the form of social denial. People of color, particularly black people, lived the contradictions of this self-deception continually through attempting to live this theodicy in good faith. This lived contradiction emerged because a demand often imposed upon people of color is that they accept the tenets of Western civilization without being critical beings. Critical consciousness asks not only whether systems are consistently applied, but also whether the systems themselves are compatible with other projects, especially humanistic ones. (p.1)

Western theodicy, has indeed played an ideologically pernicious role in the constitution and valorisation of the colonized ‘other’. Moreover, Hegel’s view that Africa is no historical part of the world, exemplifies the ideological construct of primitivism, which Young (2000) argues, denies “subject people’s human agency and resistance and constructed explanatory models to account for the alterity of those subjects (ibid, p.235)

The myopia of Hegel and many other western thinkers like him notwithstanding, assumptions about paganism are never a culturally specific phenomenon, but rather universally diverse in all of their particular expressions. Under the banner of Christendom and its expansionist excesses of colonialism, various forms of [Western] cultural imperialism amplified the ethnic and racial specificity of the pagan ‘other’, while surreptitiously masking the paganism of its own. However, Yahweh, since the time of our father Abraham until this present day, is calling a people of every tribe, tongue, and nation out of national and familial attachments to paganism. Transcendent to the deities by whom nations are being held culturally captive—the gods of nationalism, racism, tribalism, and identitarianism—God, is also calling his people out from thraldoms of cultural Christianity, in which these schisms have been instantiated.

Of course, as Gordon points out, this has played a huge part in the deleterious effects Christendom has had in rationalising and upholding systems of racial injustice. Historically, this has been demonstrated by the role Europe and the US played in the Transatlantic Slave trade, Jim Crow segregation, and more recently the iniquitous system of South African Apartheid, which stubbornly, only came to an end in 1994. However, it is worth noting that while racial disparities continue to plague blacks consigning them to contemporary dens of socio-economic inequity and generational cycles of poverty, in comparison to whites, as we have seen, this is not the universal experience for all black people of African and African-Caribbean descent in the UK, or indeed, African-Americans in the US, and African Diaspora. And yet of this history, Fanon asserts, “I am not a prisoner of history…I am not the slave of the slavery that dehumanised my ancestors.”

While racialised narratives can show how certain forms of ‘strategic essentialism’ accentuating black phenotype, may have positive effects in raising awareness about black identity and a multitude of evils endemic to anti-black racism to a wider public, it is also important to recognize its negative effects when deployed paternalistically. In Frantz Fanon’s oeuvre, he demands both the right to negate and create blackness, in terms of its past and futurity.

Presently, in mainstream media discourse, and newly woke post-evangelical spaces, there remains a tendency towards promoting racialized caricatures of black people, as being synonymous with victimhood, resulting in the infantilisation and objectification of blackness. Another interesting paradox, in Fanon’s thinking― perhaps somewhat jarring for today’s Black Nationalist ideologues and their Progressive white allies―is his rejection of the idea of reparations, arguing, ”I have neither the right nor the duty to claim reparation for the domestication of my ancestors.”

Rather poignantly, he continues: “In no way do I have to dedicate myself to reviving some black civilization unjustly ignored. I will not make myself the man of any past. My black skin is not a repository for specific values. Haven’t I got better things to do on this earth than avenge the blacks of the 17th century?”

Those promoting the idea within the Christian worldview on justice, that reconciliation is inextricably linked to reparations, might think again.

Clearly, Fanon’s humanistic revolutionary worldview, is diametrically opposed to that of biblical Christianity, but it is interesting to note how he invokes a number of biblical phrases in his writings. For example, his appeal to the ‘wretched of the earth’ and the ‘first being last and the last first,’ as well as his anti-colonial concept of the ‘new man’. These concepts have been wrested from the biblical narrative and divested of power and spiritual meaning. It is important to see how biblical concepts such as ‘justice’, ‘truth’, ‘liberation’, and so on, are subverted within secular and liberatory (religious) movements for social justice, to meet their own ideological goals, contrary to the Christian worldview from whence they came. In disentangling this conflation of purpose―between the telos of biblical justice, and that of the Marxist worldview of revolutionary justice (which in Fanon’s case, is bloody and violent), we are better placed to, proclaim Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God, rather than the wisdom of this world.

In this sense, it is quite striking to see confusion about freedom/ liberation at work today, within the church and historically in the case of the Pharisees, concerning the essential nature of Jesus and his purpose―Christ, our Jubilee /Liberator―who tells them: “If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.” It is worth noting here, that it took the murder of an Egyptian, betrayal by a fellow Hebrew, and forty years in the desert before Moses came to a correct knowledge of the truth about liberation. In a review of the history of Israel, Stephen, in his testimony before the Sanhedrin reminds us: “This Moses whom they refused, saying, Who made thee a ruler and a judge? the same did God send to be a ruler and a deliverer by the hand of the angel which appeared to him in the bush” (Acts 7:35). The Pharisees, supposedly strict adherents of Moses, rejected that they were in bondage, exemplifying the characteristics of false religious, leaders, teachers and prophets throughout scripture (OT and NT), who bring others into bondage: ” While they promise them liberty, they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by whom a person is overcome, by him also he is brought into bondage” (2 Peter 2:19). Their understanding of the scriptures had become a stumbling block to them in that they rejected the Stone, who was a rock of offence to them: consequently, their minds were blinded, due to their unbelief (2 Corinthians 3:14; 2 Corinthians 4:4; Isaiah 6: 9-10; 8:20; 29: 10-13; 42:19-20; John 12:37-41). “And whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder” (Matthew 21:44)

Like their forerunner, King Zedekiah, the Pharisees did not have a correct understanding of Jubiliee, Jesus announced at the beginning of his ministry in Nazareth (Luke 4:16-21. They could not comprehend that he was the fulfilment of Isaiah’s 61:1-4) prophecy:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised,

To preach the acceptable year of the Lord. “

The Pharisees were as equally blinded as Zedekiah (who eventually suffered the consequences of his rebellion, having his eyes gouged out by the Babylonians): “He hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart; that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them” (John 12:40).

The Lord had sent Jeremiah to remind Zedekiah of the covenant (of Jubilee) he had made with the Israelites:

“This is the word that came unto Jeremiah from the Lord, after that the king Zedekiah had made a covenant with all the people which were at Jerusalem,

to proclaim liberty unto them;

That every man should let his manservant, and every man his maidservant, being an Hebrew or an Hebrewess, go free; that none should serve himself of them, to wit, of a Jew his brother.” (Jeremiah 34:8-9)

Having heard this, all the princes and people of Jerusalem who had entered into this covenant proceeded to set at liberty all those that were in servitude to them. They heard, obeyed, and let them go.

But soon after letting the people go, they reneged on their covenant and brought the people back into bondage.

Thus saith the Lord, the God of Israel; I made a covenant with your fathers in the day that I brought them forth out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondmen, saying,

At the end of seven years let ye go every man his brother an Hebrew, which hath been sold unto thee; and when he hath served thee six years, thou shalt let him go free from thee: but your fathers hearkened not unto me, neither inclined their ear.” (Jeremiah 34:13-14)

The consequences for Israel and king Zedekiah, were devastating.

“Therefore thus saith the Lord; Ye have not hearkened unto me, in

proclaiming liberty, every one to his brother, and every man to his neighbour: behold, I proclaim a liberty for you, saith the Lord, to the sword, to the pestilence, and to the famine; and I will make you to be removed into all the kingdoms of the earth.

Suffice to say, if you are in Christ Jesus, you have been reconciled (and are being reconciled), and liberated. Anyone proclaiming otherwise, has not understood, Jesus’ rebuke to the Pharisees:

“Jesus answered them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin.

And the servant abideth not in the house for ever: but the Son abideth ever.

If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.”
(John 8:34-36)

Barnes’ Notes on the Bible, provides a simple rendering of this:

“Whosoever committeth sin … – In this passage Jesus shows them that he did not refer to political bondage, but to the slavery of the soul to evil passions and desires. Is the servant – Is the slave of sin. He is bound to it as a slave is to his master.

It is a foolhardy endeavour, leading those whom Christ― our Liberator, our Reward― has set free, back into Egypt’s house of bondage. We are wisely, exhorted by Paul to, “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage” (Galatians 5:1)

Biblical justice and reconciliation ,

Thus, biblical liberation is not based on the mere work of human hands, or to put it another way―works-based righteousness. On the contrary, for the Christian it is by grace that we are saved through faith. And this is not of our own doing; it is the gift of God; that at all times, in all places, throughout all ages, Jesus Christ sets captives free. This freedom does nor require that we bind former fallen [self] identifications to ontologies of oppression, whatever they may be. It is in this sense, Paul speaks of the newly redeemed self ― “such were some of you”― as constitutive of the transformative work of the cross (See 1 Corinthians 6:9-11). Renewal of the mind is not attained through the importation of humanistic concepts such as ‘decolonisation’, but rather through spiritual regeneration, which leads to restoration of right human relationships: “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind,” (Romans 12:2). In our new identity in Christ, we are no longer slaves to sin, but we are reconciled to God (See Romans 6:6 & 5:10). And we know that wherever the Lord’s Spirit is, there is freedom (2 Corinthians 3:17).

The gospel of Jesus Christ is not a mirror image of the way freedom is understood in this world. His kingdom is not of this world. When the Pharisees asked Jesus, when should this kingdom come, he answered, “The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you (Luke 17:20-21). That is to say, Jesus did not come to conform us to the image of the god of this world―to the spirit of the present age―but rather to transform and renew our minds so that we may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God as we sojourn here on earth.

Moreover, the danger of fetishizing oppressed identities endemic to critical theory and its subvariants―critical social justice and critical anti-racist praxis, paradoxically, result in an idolatry, that thwarts the purposes of gospel transformation. The accompanying mantra of the ‘gospel of inclusion’, that for example, speaks of “giving voice to the marginalised” and “empowering the poor” merely by human effort, based on ever proliferating notions of difference, will not further liberation but rather perpetuate the perennial objectification and spiritual subjugation of those who are genuinely oppressed. More often than we would care to admit, when we through misguided ideological motives, make merchandise out of the poor and the disregarded, unwittingly, we create cycles of oppression. And perhaps it is for this reason, Jesus reminds Judas, “You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me” (John 12:8).

The postmodern differentialist and intersectional logic underpinning social justice, tends towards the promotion of grievance narratives of oppressed groups perennially vying for power, which in turn creates hierarchies of oppression. It is what Gillian Rose has called a “despairing rationalism without reason.” In the biblical narrative the end goal of our redemption is not merely recognition of ones oppressed status as a member of some misrecognised identity group, although indeed, redemption includes those of every tribe, tongue, and nation who have responded to the gospel invitation of eternal salvation. The gospel offers a way out of the permanent struggle for power, propagated by CRT ideologues, as Paul reminds us of the authority, gifted to those who are in Christ: “For we dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves: but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise” (2 Corinthians 10:12).

Contrary to popular caricatures promoted by ‘social justice warriors’, of Jesus, he was not merely chilling with the prostitutes, pimps, tax collectors and all manner of misfits, telling supercool stories, while indulging them in their little light afflictions. Rather the opposite seems to have been the case, as Jesus enlightens the Pharisees, who questioned his disciples, “Why do ye eat and drink with publicans and sinners? They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick. I [Jesus] came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:31-32), of which I am chief.

Nor is redemption merely the restoration of ones own personal autobiography, history or indeed identitarian epistemologies. Our personal testimonies are doing something quite different, and far more powerful within the grand narrative of the biblical story, as Rosaria Butterfield so succinctly, puts it:

God’s story is our ontology: it explains our nature, our essence, our beginnings and our endings, our qualities, and our attributes. When we daily read our Bibles, in large chunks of whole books at a time, we daily learn that our own story began globally and ontologically. God has known us longer than anyone else has. The Bible declares that he knew us from before the foundations of the world.

You see, not only is he Jesus of Nazareth, he is also Jesus of Narratives. The Alpha and Omega―the first and the last, the beginning and the end, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.

And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him [the beast], whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world (Revelation 13:8)

We are told that the true children of God, those who keep his commandments. are they who overcame the dragon, “…by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death” (Revelation 12:11). This simply speaking, is the beauty of God’s plan, and fundamentally, what distinguishes it historically from humanistic projects striving for reconciliation, justice, and peace, even within the contemporary paradigm of a ‘new global normal’. The church is not merely some sort of representational economy based on human whim and ingenuity, but rather, as we read in Peter’s epistle, “ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ….But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light;” (2 Peter 2:5; 9). And again, as Paul reasons with the Athenian intellectuals, “And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings,  so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.’” (Acts 17:26-28). We are given a foretaste of that Christian hope―of the city the New Jerusalem, as John is given privy to, at the pinnacle of his numinous rapture: “And I fell at his feet to worship him. And he said unto me, See thou do it not: I am thy fellowservant, and of thy brethren that have the testimony of Jesus: worship God: for the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy” (Revelations 19:10):

But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels

To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect,

 And to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel. (Hebrews 12 22-24)

The Implications of BLM for the Contemporary Church in the UK

The Church in the colonies is the white people’s Church, the foreigner’s Church. She does not call the native to God’s ways but to the ways of the white man, of the master, of the oppressor. (Fanon 161, p. 42).

In this regard Fanon is right, though there are those who would argue to what degree this is true for each circumstance. It is not my intention to rehearse those debates here. However, while the colonial theodicy of western Christianity and its beleaguered history, continue to taint and ignore the remarkable historical trajectory of Black Majority Churches (BMC) here in the UK; they are indeed an authentic outworking of counter-cultural black struggles. Like the organic black struggles against racism in education discussed previously, the BMC movement, emerges in response to racism amongst Britain’s predominantly white church congregations, towards blacks, who had been excluded from participating. Today, in Black and Ethnic Minority Christians Lead London Church growth the Evangelical Alliance (2013) reports, “Nearly half of churchgoers in inner London (48 per cent) are black, 28 per cent in London as a whole, compared with 13 per cent of the capital’s population. That means nearly one in five (19 per cent) black Londoners goes to church each week. Two-thirds attend Pentecostal churches, though the black community is represented in every denomination. By contrast, in the rest of England the population is 90 per cent white, 2 per cent black.”

Coeval to the impact of African independence movements that took place between 1950-1975, inspiring black struggles against racial injustice in the education system in the UK, Churches in Africa were also impacted when the western colonial project came to an abrupt end in Africa. In Church History in Plain Language, Bruce Shelley writes, when the independent nations were created in the 1950s and 1960s,

…..A revival movement, which began in Rwanda-Burundian 1935, deeply influenced the churches in Uganda , Kenya, and Tanzania. Local churches of the African Inland Church in Kenya alone registered in 1978 about one million members. In the same year on the west coast, the Evangelical Churches of West Africa in Nigeria counted over 50,000 in 1,400 local congregations . Some generous estimates claimed that the number of Christians in Africa had reached 100 million.

That ‘revival’ has been ongoing, and as some scholars have suggested, a reverse flow of missionaries from Africa to Europe and the United States. It is not a novel idea, and can be traced back to the Ethiopianism inspired by a popular prophecy within black liberation movements, which can be found in Psalm 68:31 “Princes shall come out of Egypt; Ethiopia shall soon stretch out her hands unto God.” The idea of the reverse mission has been around for a while as Lily Kuo, notes:

In 1880, a West African preacher named Edward Blyden predicted that one day Africa would be the “the spiritual conservatory of the world.” In the early 1900s, Daniel Ekarte, a sailor from Nigeria, started a church in the slums of Liverpool for both Africans and white British. Around the same time, a Ghanaian businessman, Kwame Brem-Wilson, also founded a pentecostal Sumner Road Chapel in Peckham, London and helped spread Pentecostalism in the UK.

Echoing this prophecy, Charles, Haddon Spurgeon, preached a sermon entitled, The Queen of Sheba, A Sign : “Cush will hasten to present peace offerings, Sheba’s Queen will come from the far South, Candace’s Chamberlain (Ethiopian eunuch) will ask about him who was led as a lamb to the slaughter. Abyssinia will be converted, and Africa will become the willing seeker after grace, eagerly waiting and embracing the Christ of God” (See also, 1 Kings 10; Matthew 12:42; Zephaniah 3: 9-13; Acts 8:26-39).

During the 1970s, it was recorded that the Evangelical Churches of west Africa, had 200 Africans serving as missionaries in Sudan, Chad, Niger, Benin, and Ghana, all endorsed and sent by the churches of Nigeria (Shelley 1995). Today that has increased exponentially, as Lily Kuo writes in a 2017 article for Quartz Africa, Africa’s “reverse missionaries” are bringing Christianity back to the United Kingdom, Quartz:

Since then, the growth of Christianity in the developing world, migration, and the explosion of diaspora churches have given the idea new currency. Today, the largest Christian church in Europe was started by a Nigerian pastor, Sunday Adelaja, who first went to the Soviet Union and Belarus in the 1980s to study journalism. In the US, the Catholic church has been recruiting African priests for years.

….“The typical identify of a missionary in this century will no longer be that of a Westerner serving in some remote areas of Africa, but probably that of a Mexican, a Nigerian, or perhaps a Korean serving practically anywhere in the world,” writes Harvey Kwiyani, a UK-based pastor originally from Malawi, in a 2014 book on the topic, Sent Forth: African Missionary Work in the West.

According to a Pew research Center Report 2015, by 2060 six of the countries with the top ten largest Christian populations will be in Africa, up from three in 2015. This is in stark contrast to the growing decline of the Christian population in Europe and is especially notable in Britain where, a steady decline in Church of England and Church of Scotland” numbers. Only 14% of Britons identified as members of the Church of England—a record low. Similarly, Church of Scotland numbers dropped to 18% from 31% in 2002.

However, The rapid growth of Pentecostal churches in the UK, again is demarcated by the notable decline of mainline denominations in Britain, as a LSE study, Being Built Together (2017), into BMCs in the London borough of Southwark shows:

The most recent indirect count of BMCs prior to Being Built Together was the London Church Census 2012 which reported 131 Pentecostal congregations in the borough. Clearly our count is significantly higher, which points to the difficulty of characterising BMC numbers and growth, since many BMCs have minimal official presence on the internet or in other parachurch statistics. Such undercounting is difficult to avoid without researchers taking to the streets on a Sunday, particularly if you want to find less established first generation BMCs. More accurate information about BMC numbers means that the scale of their impact on the Southwark, London and British religious landscape can be better understood – 240 BMCs is nearly twice all the other churches in the borough put together.

A similar pattern is evident in the US, in relation to adherence to ‘committed religious belief’, and ‘church attendance’, is reported by the Pew research centre, where nearly eight-in-ten black Americans (79%) identify as Christian compared with seven-in-ten Americans overall (71%) who say they are Christian, including 70% of whites, 77% of Latinos and just 34% of Asian Americans.

Moreover, in their 2017 paper, Black American’s are more likely than the overall public to be Christian Protestant, David Masci, Besheer Mohamed, and Gregory, A. Smith note:

More than half of all black adults in the United States (53%) are classified as members of the historically black Protestant tradition. This includes those who tell us they belong to specific denominations such as the African Methodist Episcopal Church or the Church of God in Christ. The category also includes black Americans who do not identify with a specific denomination but instead say they associate with a broader Protestant group (e.g., “just Baptist” or “just Methodist” or “just Pentecostal”) that has a sizable number of historically black denominations.

For the many among us black Christians, who may have wrongheadedly been accused of embracing the white man’s religion, based on the calumny that the Bible is a Western construct, should take heart at the growing body of theological work (the Bible being the oldest primary historical source), that refutes this. As documented in scholarly contributions to the work of The Centre For Early African Christianity, and The Christian History Institute, we learn that: “Christianity in Africa began in Egypt in the middle of the 1st century. By the end of the 2nd century it had reached the region around Carthage. Important Africans who influenced the early development of Christianity include Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, Origen of Alexandria, Cyprian, Athanasius and Augustine of Hippo.”

The Kenyan theologian John Mbti, reminds us that, African belief in God existed before the arrival of missionaries. Contrary to popular belief, he asserts, “missionaries did not bring God to Africa, rather it is God who brought the missionaries here.” Racialised assumptions, that suggest otherwise, wrest Christianity from it’s historical Hebraic antecedents. Christianity started life as a Jewish sect, that attracted both Jewish and Gentile converts. As Mbti further observes, Christianity as it is commonly believed, was not introduced to Africa by European missionaries who arrived in the 19th century. Perhaps, even less widely known, some traditional Jewish communities in Africa are among the oldest in the world, dating back more than 2700 years, before Orthodox Rabbinical (Eastern European) Judaism. So it is also a noteworthy reminder, that African Jewry and the Jewish diaspora, are also constituted by ethnic and racial diversity.

Indeed, as the theologian Vince Bantu observes, “Christianity is not becoming a global religion. It has always been a global religion.” The notion that by virtue of my ‘blackness’, I seek to be ‘included’ into a kingdom that has been freely given to me as a gift of grace, is deeply condescending and incommensurable with the gospel message of freedom from the bondage of sin. No human can consign freedom to another. Have you not read, have you not seen that — who the Son sets free, is free indeed! “Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness.” (Romans 6:18). I don’t have to fight or beg to be ‘included’ in the kingdom of God, it is my inheritance. Current top-down anti-racist claims for inclusion in response to anti-black racism in the church, in the UK, continue to ignore the unique historical and empirical reality of its own Black majority churches. Suffice to say, the concerns of the BMC, are not a mirror image of those that arise from the BLM movement, as Israel Olofinjana shows in writing about The impact of Black Majority Churches in Britain.

The ground-breaking work of Theologians such as Thomas Oden, Vince Bantu, and J. Daniel Hays, will have significant implications for how we understand questions of racial justice and black inclusion within contemporary theological discourse. Such works point us back to the Bible as our perfect source for understanding biblical justice, and serve as a corrective to the presumptive anti-black tropes of exclusion, supported by aberrant forms of colonial Christianity.

A closer reading of scripture guided by the holy spirit, will also show, that God’s redemptive plan of reconciliation and restoration, for which he sent his only begotten Son, Jesus, to reconcile us to him, is not the work of our own hands. But rather, we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, prepared for us before the foundations of the earth (Ephesians 2:10). “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:18-20).

Likewise, when we say, what does justice look like, we are to look to what the word says. What does God say about justice for the poor; for the widow and the orphan; and the stranger? What does God say about justice in relation to the criminal justice system; the education system; what does God say about racial justice , and so on. As with so many of the terms we have been grappling with here, in an attempt to disentangle them from the goals of emancipatory projects with a different teleology to that of biblical justice; ‘social justice’, yet another amorphous concept, has also provided cover for a multitude of strategies and projects within the church, that are incommensurable with the gospel..

As I have shown, anti-racists’, “…have frequently deployed racism to secure and develop their projects. The most characteristic form of this incorporation, is anti-racists’ adherence to categories of race ’; categories which, even when politically or ‘strategically’ employed, lend themselves to the racialisation process” (Bonett, 2000, p.2). We might tentatively locate the ideology of the BLM organisation, as being handmaiden to the promotion of this form of black essentialism, even in the face of its expressed avowal to the practice of intersectionality.

Also, we should be asking questions about how the ideology of BLM has become the overarching explanatory framework for understanding black lives, here in the UK. How does the goals and mission of BLM US speak to the needs of diverse black communities in the African Diaspora? Why are so many church leaders (predominantly mainline white liberal led churches) in the UK adopting BLM as a model, devised by a Marxist based movement which originated in the US, to inform anti-racist policy in the UK? How does the BLM US mission statement (which they have recently removed from their website), reconcile itself to the reality of Black Majority Churches in the UK―which are in the main family oriented, and largely conservative in their outlook? More importantly, why are they even speaking on behalf of black people? How does this philanthropic sentimentalism, differ to the controversy that ensued concerning the Kony 2012 debacle, in relation to the ‘neo–colonial’ dynamic of the white saviour industrial complex and its ‘African subjects’? The Nigerian-American Author, Teju Cole observed in a series of tweets at the time, “The White Savior Industrial Complex is not about justice. It is about having a big emotional experience that validates privilege.” Given the cultural factors we addressed in Part I of this essay, pertaining to the role of father absence within Afro-Caribbean communities, and the disproportionate numbers of Afro-Caribbean boys excluded from school, who are also disproportionately represented in the prison population, the criminal justice system and the mental health sector; how is the mission of BLM relevant or representative of the diverse and complex issues black communities face not only in the UK but the African Diaspora, too? Invoking the words of Dr Maya Angelou, BLM acolytes implore: “When someone shows you who they are believe them; the first time.”

We disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure requirement by supporting each other as extended families and “villages” that collectively care for one another, especially our children, to the degree that mothers, parents, and children are comfortable. (Black Lives Matter US Website)

Perhaps the salvific ambitions of BLM are far better suited to the soteriological ‘positionality’ of black liberation theology, of which Anthony Bradley in The Marxist Roots of Black Liberation Theology, writes:

The notion of “blackness” is not merely a reference to skin color, but rather is a symbol of oppression that can be applied to all persons of color who have a history of oppression (except whites, of course). So in this sense, as Wright notes, “Jesus was a poor black man” because he lived in oppression at the hands of “rich white people.” The overall emphasis of black liberation theology is the black struggle for liberation from various forms of “white racism” and oppression.

James Cone, the chief architect of black liberation theology in his book A Black Theology of Liberation (1970), develops black theology as a system. In this new formulation, Christian theology is a theology of liberation – “a rational study of the being of God in the world in light of the existential situation of an oppressed community, relating the forces of liberation to the essence of the Gospel, which is Jesus Christ,” writes Cone. Black consciousness and the black experience of oppression orient black liberation theology – i.e., one of victimization from white oppression.

In clarifying our definitions, perhaps as Christians, we will be better equipped to properly discern what is worth embracing (or not as the case may be), as we address racial injustice in all of its forms, while seeking to promote truth, goodness, love, and justice in all situations. This has not been an easy task for those unfamiliar with the historical foundations of anti-racist thinking. Increasingly, one can see a blurring of the boundaries between Christian theodicy―its telos and categories―with what I have been referring to here as a ‘new anti-racist theodicy’, in addressing questions about how best to do justice in a fallen world, stained by evil.

Unlike Fanon’s “new man” who is birthed through a violent cancellation of the theodicy of western civilisation―imputed by ‘whiteness’, evident in the mimicry of the colonized other―in Christ, we have a more perfect new man:

For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two[Jew and gentile], so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility (Ephesians 2:14-16).

As our opening text in Part I of this essay implies, within the overarching biblical narrative of creation, fall, redemption and consummation, God is sifting and gathering the nations, from every tribe and tongue.―”Are you not like the Cushites to me, O people of Israel?” declares the Lord. “Did I not bring up Israel from the land of Egypt, and the Philistines from Caphtor and the Syrians from Kir?” (Amos 9:7) Attempts by emancipatory movements such as BLM, to disregard the role of ‘fathers’ in relation to the family, is a reflection of postmodernist efforts to usurp God―the Father. This is mere folly, and sadly resonant with the spirit of the age: “Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father either; he who acknowledges the Son has the Father also” (1 John 2:23). He alone is, “The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). Therefore, like the Psalmist we may also ask: “If the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?” God is the judge. God is the one doing the reckoning.: “For the LORD is our judge, the LORD is our lawgiver, the LORD is our king; he will save us” (Isaiah 33:22), regardless of the leaven of modern day scribes, and their efforts to tinker with and reconfigure scripture. For indeed, as Kierkegaard observes, “…our times are not satisfied with faith and not even with the miracle of changing water into wine – they ‘go right on,’ changing wine into water.” Ultimately, the biblical narrative points towards the establishment of God’s true church as a supernatural entity, and J.I Packer in an excerpt from Concise Theology explains this well:

There is a distinction to be drawn between the church as we humans see it and as God alone can see it. This is the historic distinction between the “visible church” and the “invisible church.” Invisible means, not that we can see no sign of its presence, but that we cannot know (as God, the heart-reader, knows, 2 Tim. 2:19) which of those baptized, professing members of the church as an organized institution are inwardly regenerate and thus belong to the church as a spiritual fellowship of sinners loving their Savior. Jesus taught that in the organized church there would always be people who thought they were Christians and passed as Christians, some indeed becoming ministers, but who were not renewed in heart and would therefore be exposed and rejected at the Judgment (Matt. 7:15-27; 13:24-30, 36-43, 47-50; 25:1-46). The “visible-invisible” distinction is drawn to take account of this. It is not that there are two churches but that the visible community regularly contains imitation Christians whom God knows not to be real (and who could know this for themselves if they would, 2 Cor. 13:5).

Thus, the biblical view of ‘racial reconciliation’ transcends all human efforts based on hierarchies of oppression , or of one identitarian group supplanting the other. Whether those strategies employed are based on white supremacy, or the necessary anti-racist racism of oppositional movements such as BLM; the white nationalism of far-Right movements, or the various forms of ethnic, racial, or multi-cultural nationalisms, ascendant in our culture―ultimately, they will have no place in the body of Christ. We are commanded not to show partiality towards one another:

If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well:

But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors (James 2:8-9)

That is to say, God is no respecter of persons, even in the case of the apple of his eye―Israel/ the church: “ God’s eyes are upon the sinful kingdom, but also, “..the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him.” (2 Chronicles 16:9). Then indeed, shall the last be first, and the first last (Matthew 20:16).

//C.Carr © 2020

Artwork: Sebastião Salgado, Children in a school that is entirely supported by the Christian Children’s Fund, USA. [children in a tree], Thailand, 1987

Take Words With You…

And it shall come
to pass in that day,
that his burden shall be
taken away from off
thy shoulder, and his
yoke from off thy neck,
and the yoke shall be
destroyed because of the anointing.―Isaiah 10:27

O Israel, return to the Lord your God,
For you have stumbled because of your iniquity;

Take words with you,
And return to the Lord.
Say to Him,
“Take away all iniquity;
Receive us graciously,
For we will offer the sacrifices of our lips.

Assyria shall not save us,
We will not ride on horses,
Nor will we say anymore to the work of our hands, ‘You are our gods.’
For in You the fatherless finds mercy.

“I will heal their backsliding,
I will love them freely,
For My anger has turned away from him.

I will be like the dew to Israel;
He shall grow like the lily,
And lengthen his roots like Lebanon.

His branches shall spread;
His beauty shall be like an olive tree,
And his fragrance like Lebanon.

Those who dwell under his shadow shall return;
They shall be revived like grain,
And grow like a vine.
Their scent shall be like the wine of Lebanon.―Hosea 14:1-7


When empathy is revealed as schadenfreude

and the foundations are being destroyed

When compassion is paternalism

and feigned kindness a mask for totalitarianism

―unbridled self-righteousness

filthy rags of unrighteousness

―figuratively robes of lawlessness

When equity segues into inequity

When subjective truth transcends the TRUTH

each one doing what is right in their own eyes

deceived by the father of all lies―nations go into captivity

bound by the workers of iniquity

When knowledge of words, cast away the Word

people delight in the vanity of the absurd

When grace billows of permissiveness

quench loves indebtedness

When six degrees of separateness

quarantine mercy and truthfulness

gathering in the beauty of holiness

and like Pilate and the Pharisees

we wash our hands ritually to stave

off the tyranny, of this invisible enemy

When righteousness and peacefulness

in unholy restraint cease to kiss

When you disregard the fatherless

When bitter is sweet, and sweet is bitterness

When good is evil, and evil is good

When peace is a simulacrum―misunderstood

When justice is turned into wormwood

When a people of the Resurrection

like Barrabas, incite insurrection

When blackness is their circumvention

the road to hell is paved with good intentions

When the Lord declared Israelites, are you

more important to me than the Cushites?

When false prophets arise like Hananiah

remember, Jesus wept over Jerusalem like Jeremiah

When beauty is but a fading flower

What is the watchman’s disposition in this hour?

“The morning comes, and also the night.
If you will inquire, inquire;
Return! Come back!”

My yoke is easy, My burden is light.

At the risk of shocking some tender-minded persons, I venture to list here a few words and phrases that to millions of evangelical Christians have no longer an identifiable content and are used merely as religious sounds without any relation to reality. They have meaning, and they are good and sacred words, but they have no meaning as used by the speaker and as heard by the listener in the average religious gathering. Here they are: victory, heart and life, all out for God, to the glory of God, receive a blessing, conviction, faith, revival, consecration, the fullness of God, by the grace of God, on fire for God, born again, filled with the Spirit, hallelujah, accept Christ, the will of God, joy and peace, following the Lord–and there are scores of others.

We have reared a temple of religious words comfortably disassociated from reality. And we will soon stand before that just and gentle Monarch who told us that we should give an account of every idle word. God have mercy on us.
―A. W. Tozer Sermon: Meaningless Words

And to these, I add ‘Amen’.

Reflections & Poems Beauty 4 Ashes Development Foundation,,
Copyright © 2020

Artwork: Makoto Fujimura: Interior Castles

Darker Than Blue: A New Theodicy of Anti-Racism?

Are you not like the Cushites to me,
O people of Israel?” 

(Amos 9:7)

It felt as though my heart was bursting within my breast, when I caught sight of the grotesque spectacle surrounding the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, at the close of May.  The pause between attempting to gather my thoughts coherently, and arriving at the point of mental acuity to find words to express them, has been unusually protracted.  There has been so much to reflect on since that gut-wrenching glance, and June through to September, seems to have evaporated just as quickly as the hand sanitizer that is now a regular part of our daily routine.

Subsequent to Floyd’s death, worldwide protests calling for ‘systemic racism’ to be addressed, not only within police forces but in society itself, have been overshadowed by the ongoing violence and rioting, taking place across America’s major cities.  This has left me in the ebb and flow of my feelings.  Trying to weigh the indelible mark of sorrow left upon the souls of black folk, along with some of the more unsettling truths animating debates about systemic racism, particularly in the UK.  In all honesty, I have been guarding my heart with a self-preserving refusal. A refusal to look at the dehumanising images of black people, that have been popping up in my newsfeed, in varying states of distress. 

How can anyone survive
When everybody’s been made a sacrifice
When seasons change – and we’ve again surpassed September
A lot of scars – that kind of scare you to remember

Surely, much of the inane politicising that forms hierarchies of black suffering while merchandising black death, can only exacerbate the problem of racial injustice and undermine its existential claim, that black lives really do matter?

Sadly, commodification through elite capture of the public discourse on anti-black racism— apparent in the symbolic anti-racism, deployed by establishment figures vis-à-vis the ideology of Black Lives Matter (BLM)— have given me further pause for thought. Being subjected to a constant replay of divisive racialised narratives by mainstream media, compounded by the asphyxiating effects of COVID-19 lockdowns, has created a foreboding sense of the horror yet to come. I think you will agree, 2020 burst forth like a tsunami of strange and portentous events. No sooner had we emerged from the ashes of one of its desolations―the monsters beckoned, and a creeping isaianic darkness covers the land.

I said to my soul, be still and wait without hope, for hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love, for love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith, but the faith and the love are all in the waiting. Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought: So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing

And as I step away from the interiority of this racial terror, imagine my surprise to find a world that has become the mirror image of classrooms, in which I once taught the mundane virtues of anti-racist theory and practice. Though in its current incarnation,  anti-racism serves as a deus ex machina  for its priestly caste, whose mission field is a world on the brink of disaster. For the most part, it consists of those well-intentioned secular evangelists and their progressive co-religionists, who would “…try to elevate their souls like someone who continually jumps from a standing position in the hope that forcing oneself to jump all day—and higher every day— they would no longer fall back down, but rise to heaven.”  It is as Simone Weil also observes, a humanism that presumes to attain, truth, beauty, liberty, and equality, which indeed, are of infinite value, but without the grace of God.  It is a work of our own hands, a stone of stumbling and a snare that opposes human ingenuity in its refusal to recover wisdom as we pass through the valley of Achor—a place where God waits patiently to be gracious to us: “For the LORD is a God of justice; Blessed are all those who wait for Him.”

As an educator, the core values of ‘anti-racist’ and ‘anti-oppressive theory and practice’ informed the bulk of my teaching in the academy.  I spent close to two decades teaching the significance of why these core values (challenging ones personal values and beliefs in recognition of conscious and unconscious bias), should underpin good professional practice to students on social work, youth ministry, and community development course programmes. The main objective being, to guide students through a process of critical reflection that would move them along a continuum acknowledging prejudicial attitudes shaping discriminatory and non-discriminatory practice, to a more enlightened position, that constitutes anti-discriminatory practice.

Drawing from the humanities, much of what I taught relied heavily upon a humanistic paradigm of Marxist conflict theory and critical [race] theory.  It was in this context, during the 1990’s that I experienced first-hand the machinations and sophistry of institutional racism.  Much to my dismay, I saw the disingenuous ways in which anti-racist practice perpetuates inequity between different identity groups, and in a wicked twist of irony, impacted more acutely the lives of black students who were supposedly its beneficiaries.  The casting of a veil over the good intentions of unsuspecting students by those in positions of power, made it almost impossible to detect: the ways in which anti-racist practice, can actually work to maintain the dichotomies it seeks to eradicate between oppressors and oppressed groups.

Imagine further my concern to see these same anti-racist training strategies that had been passed down to us by external consultants―three decades on―being played out as I write on pavements, in parks and public pavilions, and perhaps more troubling―the pulpits of churches, locally and globally.  The collective ritual of bowing before idols of oppression to expiate oneself from the sin of white racism and/or white privilege, along with separation of students into black and white groups to “get educated”, was common practice.  This reversal of roles―of oppressor and oppressed groups―apparently, being emblematic of life under regimes of Jim Crow segregation and apartheid.  In trading places,  re-enacted through acts of empathy―white students doing obeisance to black students by polishing their shoes, were given the opportunity to ‘atone’ for their ‘sins’.  You may well ask, what strain of religious opium is this?

This is the strain to which Weil, attributes Marxist revolutionary praxis as being the opium of intellectuals: “Marxism is undoubtedly a religion, in the lowest sense of the word. … [I]t has been continually used … as an opiate for the people.”  Well, here’s the thing, when a white racist student did actually walk into one of my classes with what appeared to be some kind of  17th century re-enactment rifle, the white anti-racist zealots propagating this asinine politics of resentment, were nowhere to be found.

My teaching of anti-racist core values and its implications  for students in youth ministry across a range of denominational church settings, also gleaned from this deeply problematic secular worldview.  And it is precisely this conflation of worldviews, that I want to begin to address here.

Why we need to define anti-racism and anti-black racism

In order to understand how the concept of anti-racism is defined within a secular humanist framework, its useful to begin first by defining racism, the entity which it seeks to dismantle.  According to the Oxford Dictionary of Sociology, racialism which is often thought of and deployed interchangeably with racism,  “…is the unequal treatment of a population group purely because of its possession of physical and other characteristics socially defined as denoting a particular race.  Racism is the deterministic belief system which sustains racialism, linking these characteristics with negatively valuated social, psychological or physical traits” (Marshall 1998, p.548)

A similarly complex historical relationship between the construction of the concept of ‘race’ and the subsequent creation of the concept of racism has amassed a copious body of work clarifying these terms. The British Marxist sociologist, Robert Mile summarises the development of both: “The idea of ‘race first appeared in the English language in the early seventeenth century and began to be used in European and North American scientific writing in the late eighteenth century in order to name and explain certain phenotypical differences between human beings. By the mid-nineteenth century, the dominant theory of ‘race’ asserted that the world’s population is constituted by a number of distinct ‘races’, each of which has a biologically determined capacity for cultural development.” Although a substantial body of scientific evidence gathered during the early twentieth century challenged the theory, Miles continues, “it was the use of ‘race’ theory by the National Socialists in Germany that stimulated a more thorough critical appraisal of the idea of ‘race’ in Europe and North America and the creation of the concept of racism in the 1930s” (Miles 2000, p.123).

Conversely, in his book Anti-Racism, Alastair Bonnett writes, “A minimal definition of anti-racism is that it refers to those forms of thought and/or practice that seek to confront, eradicate, and/or ameliorate racism.  Anti-racism implies the ability to identify a phenomenon―racism―and to do something about it.”  A slippery and amorphous term,  its history being far more multiplex than linear―depending on who is framing it―‘anti-racism’ is a twentieth century creation.  It did not come into common parlance until the 1960s, but had its antecedents in the scientific anti-racism of anthropologists seeking to end the paradigm of cultural evolutionism and social Darwinism within the  social sciences. Its development during the last few decades have been accompanied by the emancipatory praxis (emerging from the new social movements of the sixties and seventies) of various oppressed groups, and their respective epistemologies.

As we shall see, different forms of anti-racism often operate with different definitions of what racism is.  Consequently, debates about racism (and anti-racism) are widely contested and as such, escape universal ascription to one particular group.  The location of racially defined groups in the stratification system of wider society, necessitate such contextualisation of definitions.  These competing narratives in turn, are constituted by the legacy of slavery and the constant flux of immigration of non-white minorities in the United States, the history of colonialism, and the more recent postcolonial settlement of minorities from the global south in Europe. Highlighting the distinctiveness of the corollary of anti-racism― anti-black racism, New Discourses (2020) writes:

Critical scholars of race have rightly identified that races as we know them now are socially constructed categories that were created particularly during European colonialism—and the Atlantic slave trade, especially—for the purpose of justifying the inhumane and genocidal treatments of non-European races (especially black Africans and indigenous peoples around the world). While people of different ethnic backgrounds (or, more accurately, evolutionary lineages) do exhibit different traits, some of which we associate with race, features like melanin count, hair texture, eye color, and so on, map poorly onto those biological differences. Categories like “black” and “white” are, in fact, largely arbitrary with regard to these and rather extraordinarily genetically diverse, vindicating the claim that they are socially constructed categories (see also social constructivism). These scholars also rightly recognize that these categories either did not exist or had other meanings before that time and that they were created to justify atrocities through subordination and dehumanization.

So while there may be similarities in the modes of response and resistance to anti-black racism within the Black Atlantic experience, they are also marked by difference.  For example,  unlike their African-American counterparts,  African-Caribbeans in Britain, while still on the receiving end of racism, experienced less overt forms of segregation and discrimination, and did not have a comparable or sustainable civil right’s movement per se.  Nevertheless, the link between black people throughout the diaspora, some of whom shared the common experience of being oppressed minorities began to organize under the banner of ‘Black power’.

Developments in struggles against anti-black racism in Britain were stimulated by the burgeoning mood of the transnational Black Power movement, the emergence of anti-colonial movements in Africa and the Caribbean, as well as the subvariant movements for Civil Rights in the US. Energised by these struggles, black communities sought out ways of establishing their rights as they supported independence struggles waged in Africa and the Caribbean, that mirrored the various and interlocking forms of subordination experienced here in the UK. The anti-colonial movements had already experienced a long tradition in Britain, “through overseas student associations and the presence of progressive Pan-Africanists, ensured that we looked beyond the immediate horizons to link our fate with black people elsewhere” (Bryan et al 1985, p.134-135).

A plethora of black power type organisations emerged in Britain in the 1960s with a different set of objectives to the preceding ones, which had been set up to deal with issues of racial discrimination and immigration.  Organisations such as the Campaign Against Racial Discrimination  (CARD), were challenged by the new militancy of black power, on the basis of their integrationism and legislative strategy.  Rather like the impact contemporary black nationalist movements from the US (such as the Nation of Islam and BLM), have had on the rise of black power politics in Britain today;  previously, that impact came with visits to the UK, by key figures involved in the civil rights movement: namely, Malcolm X, Stokely Carmichael, and later on Martin Luther King.

During this period, concerns were focused on the problems and difficulties young African-Caribbeans  were facing.  In an effort to address some of the tensions black British youth encountered with the police and within the education system, one cultural strategy involved the setting up of supplementary schools.  As the presence of black families  increased in the UK, during the fifties and sixties, the need for educational support for ‘Afro-Caribbean’ children, became apparent.  The beginnings of organised supplementary schools can be traced back to 1964, where three groups of black adults living in Shepherds Bush, Haringey and Islington, began their work with young children of Afro-Caribbean origin. The individuals in each of the groups were all members of the West Indian Standing Conference, a social organisation formed in 1959 (Olowe 1990; Dove 1995).

By the 1970s, key campaigns were dominated by the political  response of black communities to the predicament of young black people, first born and first generation educated in British schools.  This was a pivotal moment for black self-organisation, as it came to the attention of parents that the schools were failing and labelling children of Afro-Caribbean descent,  as educationally sub-normal (ESN) at alarmingly significant rates.  At this point,  Black Power politics in the US, had the effect of strengthening the mobilisation of black communities in Britain.  The black education struggles of the seventies were embodied by organisations such as the Black Parents Movement (BPM) and the Black Students Movement (BSM), which were both founded in 1975.   The United Black Women’s Action Group in North London set up its own distinctive organisation around the same time, which  fed into the wider ESN campaign spearheaded by parents and teachers.

One specific response to arise from  the ESN campaign, was the setting up of the Caribbean Education and Community Workers Association (CECWA), in 1970.  This in turn made it possible for the publication of what is considered now, an iconic book, entitled:  How the West Indian Child is Made Educationally Sub-Normal in the British School System, by Bernard Coard, a Grenadian teacher in London, who went on to  become a politician and Deputy Prime Minister in the People’s Revolutionary Government of the New Jewel Movement in his native country. Coard, outlined the deficiencies of the State education system and highlighted the internal dynamics of racism through a critique of culturally biased testing. Most significantly, Coard called on the black community to act collectively to establish supplementary schools. The book resonated profoundly with black parents, black youth and school students across the  country, and made a significant impact on the educational establishment. 

In response to anti-black racism in schools, the search for black cultural awareness began, “rooted in the idea of their being a corporate black history and identity, accessible only to individuals by virtue of  their experience of being black” (Shukra 1998 p.41).  The outworking of this, resulted in the promotion of a black only form of community organisation with US connotations of separatism.   In his work, Coard, justified this special type of provision for the young Afro-Caribbeans, who it was hoped would learn about their cultural heritage, thus developing a sense of ‘black pride’. This sense of ‘pride’ about their identity would enhance mental stimulation, so that students would not internalise hatred towards themselves and their race. In turn, it was argued, the nefarious practice of relegating them to ESN schools, would cease.

To what degree these organisations and campaigns constituted a ‘Black Power movement’ in Britain is debatable.  However, it is clear that aspects of the American brand of Black Power politics were largely influential in the self-organisation of blacks against racism in the British education system. Interestingly, the British Trinidadian sociologist, Colin Prescod describes the period as also a time in Britain when alliances between people from the Asian Sub-Continent, from the Caribbean and Africa, as well as Europeans forged ‘black’ as a political colour, in their common struggle against racism.

By the 1980s, a shift from the more separatist orientations of black nationalist organisations to demands from black community activists, for the inclusion of black history in the curriculum, saw its unofficial insertion in some schools. Alongside the existence of supplementary schooling, the inclusion of black studies as a response to racism in schools, was not without its critics. Some scholars observe, that it was only taken up by some local authorities, “lost for ways by which to maintain order in schools where young African-Caribbean’s were refusing to cooperate, black studies was adopted almost as their last fling at efforts in social control” (Shukra, 1998 p. 35).

The sociologist Paul Gilroy (1993), also notes how oppositional discourses and practices such as the anti-racist cultural strategy, calling for black history to be included in the curriculum, can also become bound up with their own power/knowledge systems: “the formation of anti-racist bureaucracies is indicative of anti-racisms alienation from the concerns of ordinary black people and a sign of recuperation of ‘black struggle’ by a black petite bourgeoisie” ( p.13). Moreover, Bridges (1994) argues “…even this regulatory function of ‘anti-racism’ failed to build on the concept of black children’s right to a decent education; it failed that is, directly to assist them and their parents to fight, for themselves, the racism they encountered in schools over issues of ‘streaming’ and access to the curriculum, discipline and exclusions, and racist abuse and violence” (p.5).

It is against this background, we begin to see how presently, anti-racism is shaped and informed in the UK  context. As such, most of its proponents (whether consciously or unconsciously) believe that racism is deeply embedded in institutions, policies and practices, to the point that it has become a part of the mundane practices of institutional racism.  In his final report into the death of the black teenager, Stephen Lawrence, Sir William Macpherson  drew upon an earlier definition borrowed from the black power activist, Kwame Ture (formerly known as Stokely Carmichael): “Racism is both overt and covert. It takes two, closely related forms: individual whites acting against individual blacks, and acts by the total white community against the black community.  We call these individual racism and institutional racism.”  Macpherson defined institutional racism as “the collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture or ethnic origin.”  It is seen in “processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racist stereotyping which disadvantages minority ethnic people”.

Summary of some policy responses to racism in education

The report was hailed as a water-shed in race-relations initially, particularly in terms of recognising what some black people had long perceived to be misrecognised: the reality of institutionalised racism in public institutions. The report had suggested a number of changes to the National Curriculum in an attempt to address the issues of racial inequality and cultural diversity in education. As educational sociologist, David Gillborn notes, “Macpherson had questioned the adequacy of the National Curriculum for a multi-ethnic society but was met simply with an apparent reassurance that things were fine…stating that teachers had already been granted sufficient ‘flexibility’, as the Home office (1999) put it “….to tailor their teaching to stimulate and challenge all pupils, whatever their ethnic origin or social background” (Gillborn 2002, p.23).

Beginning with the post-war period as a reference point, Gillborn (2001) develops an analytical framework that identifies six significant phases, in response to racism in schools. The first phase starts with the educational policy response to migration from the Caribbean and Indian Subcontinent, as one of “doing nothing.” He describes this phase (1945-to late 1950s) as a time of “ignorance and neglect.” The second phase is identified as “assimilation” (late 1950s to the late 1960s), and is characterised by the concern of educational policy to protect the stability of the system while subduing the fears of “white racist communities and parents…” The third and fourth phases are identified as “integration” and “cultural pluralism (1966 to late 1970s). During this period progressive organisations, such as All London Teachers Against Racism and Fascism (ALTARF in their work, Challenging Racism (1984), criticised the apolitical nature of multicultural education―such efforts, marking a fifth phase during the early 1980s, Gillborn refers to as “anti-racist counter-cultural development” (ibid. p.16). It was criticisms such as those advanced by ALTARF which seriously called into question, the efficacy of liberal reformist claims about the emancipatory potential of multicultural education and its ability to transform the future of ethnic minority pupils (McCarthy 1990).

The sixth phase (mid 1980s), is characterised by the emergence of Thatcherism, which embodied what some have referred to as the ‘new racism’ and a return to deracialised educational policy discourse. Accordingly, Margaret Thatcher and her Education Secretary, Keith Joseph, made statements to the effect that Britain’s schools were meant to express a certain culture and that elements of mono-culturalism were rational. A consequence of this common sense rationalism, came in the form of a backlash against the Inner London Education Authority (ILEA) and the Greater London Council (GLC) who played a key role in adapting and promoting anti-racist policy. Many of these policy initiatives were also adopted by central government, in the form about schooling for diverse populations (Bhattacharyya and Gabriel 1997). For example, booklets were produced, such as History of The Black Presence in London (GLC 1986). West Africa, West Indies, West Midlands (Sandwell 1982) and Sylvia Collicat’s Connections (Haringey 1986).

The 1970s through to the late 1980s witnessed many educational policy makers influenced by the findings of the Swan Report (1985), engaged in active forms of multiculturalism. A look at the reports that have accumulated over the last four decades or so, attempting to address the seemingly insurmountable issues, which cause inequalities in education, coeval to the aforementioned phases, reveal no shortage of proposals. Particularly in the area of making the curriculum more relevant to an increasingly diverse student population (for example, The Rampton Report 1981; The Scarman Report 1981). Some have suggested political ideology from the 1976 Race Relations Act, through to the Swann, Rampton and Dearing Reports (1960s to1990s), assisted in shaping the history curriculum but there was evidence of a lack of imagination, about how it could be more inclusive (Ali 2000). Some viewed the developments within anti-racist policy in a more positive light, in that both anti-racist and multicultural strategies made it possible for black history to move from the periphery of supplementary schools to the centre of some British schools. For example, Alibhai-Brown (2000) describes the eighties as a period whereby some “radical thinking” impacted on the mind-sets of those responsible for the education system. Not only did this period witness “proactive employment policies to get black and Asian teachers into the system taken up with some energy, but the curriculum was challenged and where possible transformed” (p.171).

Nevertheless, the debate for inclusion of black history in the curriculum, continues unabated, and given the revival of black nationalist orientations in education through BLM protests this summer, Black History Month 2020, might yet have its red October.

Assessing the 1990s, Gillborn and Gipps (1996) note that the period had seen “massive reforms of the education system that touch all those in education (including head-teachers, governors, classroom teachers, parents and pupils” (p.1). In contrast, some have argued that the current period has seen issues of ‘race’ and equal opportunities airbrushed from policy agendas. However, the impact of the Macpherson report and the reopening of the debate on institutional racism, has seen much longed for changes in the form of the Race Relation (Amendment) Act 2000 (later on repealed by the Equality Act 2010), which emphasised the very areas Gillborn and Gipps claim to have been erased.

With the shift from multicultural and anti-racist policies emphasising the need to promote cultural diversity in multi-ethnic schools, a new critical climate addressing postmodern concerns with postcolonial ‘difference’, has had the effect of tempering the received position on certain bodies of knowledge. These new discourses and “the idea of a common racial identity capable of linking divergent black experiences across different spaces and times has been fatally undermined” (Gilroy 1993 p.2). Moreover he continues, “these changes in black communities self-understanding affect the formation, reproduction and dessimination of their expressive cultures in quite fundamental ways” (ibid. p.22).

Significantly, Gilroy notes,  “it is necessary to grasp that black liberation and anti-racism are two quite distinct orientations, which get regularly confused in radical politics…they are not the same and may actively conflict.” 

I shall return to this in Part II of this essay, considering how these two dimensions currently besetting the Christian worldview, through a convergence with the ideology of Black Lives Matters, is not only antithetical to a biblical worldview of justice, but reconciliation and liberation too.

The continuities and discontinuities of anti-racism and black liberation notwithstanding, Ideas about blackness can be explained historically and can therefore be understood as a historical entity. In the context of Euro-history, ‘blackness’ is an ascribed status, constructed through a process of racialization: by the gaze of the other, endowed with the power to write ones identity. Over time our understanding of blackness does not remain static and unyielding to other important and dynamic processes in contemporary society. On the contrary, ideas about ‘race’, ethnicity, globalisation and the concomitant postcolonial reasoning that emerges in the late twentieth century as a ‘politics of recognition’ with a constellation of concerns about equality and cultural citizenship, offer insights to the ways in which blackness is itself reconstituted to meet those shifting demands:

The history of blacks in the Western hemisphere can be used to show how the understanding of identity has itself been reconfigured at various times in the service of the inescapably political desires to be free, to be a citizen, and to be oneself, which have shaped successive phases in the movements towards racial emancipation, liberation, and autonomy. This means our discussions of Black identity cannot, then, be easily disentangled from these movements and their changing tactics.  Indeed, the concepts, “Negro,” “coloured,” “Black,” and “African,” identity have already been tailored to these movements and their changing tactics (Gilroy 1995, p.18).

Building on the movement towards what some scholars have termed a more critical anti-racism, Dei (1998) asserts the need for a more complex anti-colonial discursive framework (see for example, Arber 1999, Carrim 1995, 2000; Dei 1999; May 1998; Mairtin Mac an Ghaill 1994; McCarthy 2000; Giroux 2000). Proponents of this approach stress the need for difference to be taken seriously, allowing for critical analysis of how various stakeholders interpret their varied identitarian standpoints (e.g. race, gender, class) on schooling and educational outcomes for youth. 

Interestingly, amidst the fiery BLM protests that followed Floyd’s death in the US, the UK government appointed Dr Tony Sewell CBE, Chair to its Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, who had two decades earlier, pointed out the need for a  rethinking of how anti racist policies could be made more relevant to the “real world” of schools.  He had pointed towards  the need for a new language for anti-racist and multicultural issues, given that the old words have been sullied by the symbolic anti-racism of the Left and the nihilistic response of the New Right.  In order to perform this social function―to create a new political logic―there is a need to break with the crust of convention.

Moving beyond the either/or Left/Right Manichean struggle, that characterise debates about racial disparities as they relate to anti-black racism, but bear minimal fruit in terms of real world solutions, Professor of Social Sciences, Glenn Loury, transcends this orthodoxy. In Why Does Racial Inequality Persist? Culture, Causation, and Responsibility, he writes:

This puts what is a very sensitive issue rather starkly. Many vocal advocates for racial equality have been loath to consider the possibility that problematic patterns of behavior could be an important factor contributing to our persisting disadvantaged status. Some observers on the right of American politics, meanwhile, take the position that discrimination against blacks is no longer an important determinant of unequal social outcomes. I have long tried to chart a middle course—acknowledging anti-black biases that should be remedied while insisting on addressing and reversing the patterns of behavior that impede black people from seizing newly opened opportunities to prosper. I still see this as the most sensible position.

The emergence of anti-racist pedagogy in education

A key objective that multicultural and later on anti-racist education attempted to address focused on the question: How do different kinds of students experience the education on offer as relevant, useful , and enabling?

What we now call multicultural education originated in Britain in the 1970s, as we have seen, preceded by policies of assimilation in the sixties and seventies. The policies and underlying ideas of assimilation had lost credibility among many, and were subjected to unprecedented challenges by oppositional black groups influenced by the Civil Rights Movement in the US. Subsequently, the ascendancy of multicultural education over the last three decades, has intermittently attracted much controversy from the media as it became an evermore contentious and politicised battleground. In the midst of such controversy, there has been little agreement on a precise conceptualisation of what multicultural education is. In fact, multiculturalism is often conflated with anti-racism, and whilst there exists some overlap, this difficulty is compounded further, by the prevailing public policy zeitgeist, which is as equally vague, in defining what constitutes ‘inclusive education’.

As McCarthy (1990) has pointed out, policy discourse on multicultural education has consistently identified the variable of culture as the vehicle for addressing racial inequality and racial conflict in schooling. Unlike the earlier liberal concept of assimilation that was preoccupied with cultural deprivation, multicultural advocates were more inclined towards emphasising the positive qualities of minority cultural heritage (for example, Bullivant 1981; Gibson 1976; Jeffcoate 1975; Verma and Bagley 1975). The Swann Report illustrates this position well. Instead of viewing black children as the ‘problem’, the review team of the Swann Committee chose to consider what kind of education was appropriate for a multi-ethnic society for all children.

However, Gillborn (1995) argues that the notion of ‘liberal pluralism’ falls flat on its face on account of its belief in a common framework of values, which offer the criteria for the selection of knowledge.” The interchangeable view of cultural pluralism and cultural diversity, Bhaba 1990) argues, function then, as a bedrock of multicultural education policy in the UK. Moreover, while cultural diversity is encouraged, he continues, there is also a “corresponding containment of it” ( Ibid, p. 208).

More recently, a growing body of literature focusing on critical anti-racist pedagogy, has sought to rethink how the curriculum is delivered through an analysis of ‘difference’ and indigenous knowledge.

From its inception―starting in the 1960s Supplementary school movement,  there have been various iterations of anti-racist pedagogical practice,  aimed at challenging racist ideology and its impact on black  and minority ethnic children in schools.  In the main, they have been  concerned with changing teacher’s attitudes towards black children and eradicating racism from the curriculum.  As we have seen, the generation of ‘positive images ‘ that emerged from both popular and professional anti-racist practice, embodies the assumption “that anti-racism may be best on the level of consciousness: that to change how people feel about others and themselves is tantamount to changing society (Bonnett  2000, p.95). This strategy implies the need for members of society to be educated in such a manner that they would reject all forms of prejudice and racism.  Such a perspective has its roots in what Bonnett refers to as “psychological anti-racism” and what others in the social sciences, have also referred to as moral anti-racism (for example see, Gilroy 1987; Macdonald et al 1989; Rattansi 1992).

Interestingly, an earlier study by Maureen Stone, The Education of The Black Child, addressed the tension between black parents and educationalists demands for a focus on addressing low self-concept through cultural understanding of African-Caribbean pupils and their academic achievement. In her review of three self-help and four officially funded supplementary schools in London, Stone identifies a strong emphasis amongst black parents and black teachers who staff the project on teaching basic skills. Where Stone found aspects of the ‘Black Studies’ approach, this was usually relegated to being of secondary importance to the principal aim of ensuring that black children advance their reading, writing and mathematical skills.

The empirical research led Stone to refute the fashionable idea that poor self-concept is the cause for lower rates of academic achievement among pupils of Caribbean origin. In her concluding argument, she asserts, “The central recommendation of this study is for the use of more formal methods of teaching west Indian children throughout primary and secondary schools” (Stone 1981 p.242). Stone’s critique of multicultural education, serves as a timely reminder for the need to move beyond the simplistic equation, that the solution for so-called low self-concept amongst Afro-Caribbean pupils cannot rely alone on positive role models and multi-racial education projects, such as Black Studies. Concurring with Stone, Troyna (1992) also demonstrated the inadequacy of a ‘cultural understanding’ model approach, which focuses on the lifestyles of black pupils, thus reducing them to cultural artefacts―a notion often associated with the “3Ss” (Saris, Samosas, and Steel bands) interpretation of multicultural education. Earlier studies such as Coard (1971) and Milner (1975) had pointed towards the need to reassess the “…alleged negative self-image of black pupils and underachievement in education, alongside concern about emergent resistance to racist forms of education by black pupils and their parents” (Troyna 1992, p.68).

Unlike Stone, whose research had led her to conclude that pedagogical strategies developed to enhance black pupils ‘self-concept’ were unlikely to affect exam achievements, others like Troyna contended that an approach more akin to the neo-Marxist Brazilian educationalist, Paulo Freire’s notion of political conscientization, offered up possibilities, yet to be explored.

Another ethnographic study conducted by Wright in 1985, focusing on the experiences of fourth and fifth year African-Caribbean pupils from two schools in the North of England, found: “To the West Indian, the school seemed to be seen as a “battleground” a hostile environment insofar as it rejects their colour and their identities (cited in Dove 1995, p.352). Wright found that students perceived that their academic performance was affected by their white teachers’ attitudes, behaviours, and low expectations of them. In another study, that took place in four inner city primary schools (1988-198) and was published in 1992, Wright’s ethnographic research produced similar findings, suggesting: teachers were also insensitive to the fact that many students would have been victims of racism. Concurring with Wright’s study, Gillborn and Gipps (1996), in a review of qualitative research into ethnic minority pupil’s interaction with teachers in schools, found: that the level of teacher/pupil conflict in research conducted in schools was such that, as a group, black pupils experiences of school were far more conflictual and less positive than their peers, regardless of ‘ability’ and gender.

Debates about Supplementary schools and black history have been a source of great interest, but little research has been conducted, and it is worth noting, the studies discussed here have been conducted by black African-Caribbean scholars in a field, ironically, dominated by white academics, who have been extremely influential in shaping the discourse on educational policy (for example, Carr 2005; Dove 1995; Sewell 1997; Stone; 1981; Wright 1992).

Given some of the bleak narratives on the experience of black pupils and schooling, it seems inevitable that alternative strategies such as supplementary schools and black history have not only been considered within black communities as a viable option, but also present themselves as the most promising solutions on offer to combat anti-black racism.

For Coard, “pride and confidence” were the best form of response against the prejudice and humiliating experience black pupils faced in the education system and wider society. Moreover, as Graham (2001) notes, “…it is within this context that African-Centred ways of knowing became relevant to educational discourse. Doves study found that supplementary schools were popular with black parents because they wanted their children to receive a “black perspective, cultural understanding, black historical information, a positive black image, positive role models, a better learning environment, and the company of other black children.” Dove further observed that the increase in supplementary schools in the United kingdom, may well reflect other forms of resistance to state public schooling that have taken place in the United States. Graham and Dove both argue, that an “African-Centred’ approach challenges the hegemonic scholarship that has pervaded European-centred educational systems from the conquest of Egypt by the Greek.” An African-centred curriculum and pedagogical methods, she argues, “can help children to decipher lies and develop inquiring scholarly minds” (ibid, p.357).

Unlike some of the assumptions based on cultural and ethnic homogeneity central to Doves articulation of blackness and African-Centred pedagogy, Graham (2001), makes more explicit the diversity within black communities, indicating that the terms ‘black’ and ‘African’ are used interchangeably. Some British scholars have pointed out that such formations of Afrocentric discourse appear primarily as an African-American construct (e.g. Gilroy 1993, 2000; Miles 1999).

The feminist philosopher, Nancy Fraser in her critique of identity politics, argues that a politics of recognition reduced to forms of identitarianism, results in an emphasis on demeaning representations, which she suggests, undermines the social-structural underpinnings of inequality. In dislodging the identitarian model for a politics of recognition, and enjoining it with a politics of redistribution, Fraser argues for a view of recognition that would interrogate institutionalised forms of cultural value and the resulting impact on the relative standing of its respective subjects. From this viewpoint, then, she suggests, “misrecognition is neither a psychic deformation nor a free standing cultural harm but an institutionalised relation of subordination” (ibid, 2000, p.113). In this respect, “parity impeding” values―such as a predominantly monocultural curriculum that addresses diversity by centring the persistent “ideological we and usually then simply mentioning the contributions of people of colour, women and others, or by creating a false logic of equivalence… perpetuates existing hierarchies of what counts as official knowledge” (Apple 1996, p.54). Within this analytical framework, anti-black racism in schools, would be an example of what Fraser calls “status subordination,” based on “misrecognition,” which has the impact of non-participation. The outworking of this standpoint in relation to the school curriculum, would be a radical democratisation that enables all students a space to engage “in the cultural politics over the struggle for collective identity and difference” (Miron 1999, p.83). As such, the curriculum becomes what Giroux (1992) and Battaglia (1999) describe as a ‘representational economy”, where students think through the micro-practices of everyday life.

I shall return to look at some of the problems associated with this postmodern differentialist model, constitutive of an epistemological framework, central to current renderings of critical race theory.

Interestingly, some of the pedagogical approaches discussed above― which at various times, have been rooted in activist scholarship, informed by Marxist theoretical frameworks and black nationalist orientations― can be seen in the ideology of the popular African-American movement, Black Lives Matter. Concurrently, a new cannon of critical anti-racist literature suffused with intersectional identitarian epistemologies, and a recycling of the deeply flawed psychological and moral anti-racist approaches, have become widely popular.  From Robin DiAngelo’s, White Fragility to Ibram X. Kendi’s  How to Be an Antiracist, the idea of (black) ethnocentric, anti-white/eurocentrism is promoted,  which “…attempts to challenge the hegemony of Europe in order to construct another location from which to judge the world, not merely ‘another view’ but a new and different centre, with all the sense of self-worth confidence that the claim implies” (Bonnett 2000 p.98).   For blacks engaged in struggles to dismantle racism, this has involved―what movements such as BLM have embraced―a necessary anti-racist racism.

Black community without uniformity

Arguably, the problem with this current iteration of anti-racism as it is articulated in public policy discourse by those in establishment and some activist spaces in the UK, is that it has remained very much like previous iterations―incredibly disjointed, oversimplified, disconnected from real black lives, and contagiously reactive. This remains true, even while provoked by unprecedented events in another country.  Ironically, some might question the overzealousness of top-down reactions to the George Floyd incident in contrast to the tepid ways in which the powers that be, have reacted historically to the disproportionate impact of ‘systemic racism’ on black lives, here in the UK.  Particularly the lives of young black boys, who have  historically experienced disproportionate numbers of school exclusions, who have fallen foul of racial profiling and deaths in police custody, and as young men, continue to be over-represented in the prison system. 

For example, Black men are 26 percent more likely than white men to be remanded in custody. They are also nearly 60 percent more likely to plead not guilty. There is also evidence that  “Black And minority Ethnic (BAME) and foreign national women can have distinctly different experiences or outcomes at some stages of the Criminal Justice System in comparison to other offenders, and that these may differ between faiths and cultures” (Tackling Racial Disparity in the Criminal Justice System: 2020 Update).   Generally, government figures on pupil exclusion for 2020, show that Gypsy and Roma, and Traveller of Irish Heritage pupils had the highest school exclusion rates (both permanent and temporary) in the 2017 to 2018 school year, while Mixed White and Black Caribbean, and Black Caribbean pupils also had high exclusion rates, and were both nearly 3 times as likely to be permanently excluded as White British pupils.

The oft-cited correlation between the pernicious and all encompassing effects of institutional racism on disproportionate numbers of black boys being excluded from schools have dominated studies in the UK. They have tended to overshadow more nuanced accounts of the cluster of  factors linked to “out of school causes.”  In a recent response to a report produced by the education department called Getting it, Getting it right, Tony Sewell and Tracy Reynolds, in critiquing “the easy route of blaming institutional racism”,  have highlighted this imbalance: “Black Caribbean exclusions are three times higher than white. What the report fails to mention is that black Caribbean exclusions are also three times higher than black African exclusions.  The clear ‘out of school’ difference is family and culture; black African fathers are present in their families much more than those from a black Caribbean background.  This leads to significant behavioural outcomes, particularly with boys.”

Let me return for a brief moment to consider further some of the problems in postmodernists conceptualisation of difference, as touched on previously in the work of (Apple 1996; Fraser 2000; Miron 1999; Giroux 1992; Battaglia 1999).

Increasingly, the radical subjectivism that undergirds  post-modern critical [race] theorising in some activist scholarship, unapologetically abandons notions of objectivity, rationalism, and truth as white supremacist/patriarchal/western constructs.  Simultaneously, methodological approaches in critical research (central to CRT) place more emphasis on the experiential, rather than objective reality.  The ever diminishing returns of such standpoint theories encompassing a doctrine of “my truth,” are summarised well by Gillian Rose, in Mourning Becomes The Law:

The phenomenological ‘irony of irony’ expounds this drama of experience as intrinsically ironic:  it acquires the doubled title by virtue of the expanded and implicated rationality of its expositions.  Experience, expounded as the changing configurations of the inevitable collision between the concepts of self and reality, between concepts of subject and object, takes place moreover intersubjectively.  It is conceptually impossible to produce a taxonomy which would sequester concepts of justice and the good from concepts of ‘self-creation’, for the very formation of  ‘selfhood’ takes place in interaction with the mingled ethical and epistemological positings of the other, the partner in the formation of our contingent and unstable identities, (Rose 1996, pp6-7).

Continuing, Rose describes this proliferation of new claims for ‘empowerment’ under the banner of ‘postmodernism’, as a despairing rationalism without reason.  Rather than dismantling rationality, each standpoint in redefining, resincribes it, 

...for otherwise no argument could be devised, no analysis could be conducted, and no conclusion could be urged.  Yet, by disqualifying universal notions of justice, freedom, and the good, for being inveterately ‘metaphysical’, for colonising and suppressing their others with the violence consequent on the chimera of correspondence, ‘postmodernism’ has no imagination for its own implied ground in justice, freedom and the good (ibid, p.

Could this account for a major lacuna in the critical anti-racist scholarship produced predominantly by the Left? Particularly in relation to implicit bias in theorising racial disparities and the constancy of ‘systemic racism’―as being, an all encompassing empirical reality that defines the black experience?  Following Benedict Anderson’s formula, of the notion of communities as “Imagined,” in an article entitled Less Race Please, Michael Ignatieff,  speaking of the killing of the black teenager Stephen Lawrence notes:   “Everyone talked as if the Lawrence family and a larger fiction called the ‘black community had been “let down.”  The black community he continues, is no more a reality than the white community.  To speak of communities in such racially homogenising terms, presupposes skin, trumps all other identities.  Scholars such as George Sefa Dei, have argued the contrary, pointing out that, “ideas of ‘nation’,  ‘community’, and ‘citizenship’ are not simply imagined constructs, but are real in their meanings and evocations with profound material and non-material consequences for colonized and marginalized groups” (Dei 2000, p.118).

The writer and thinker Coleman Hughes, more recently has contested some of the most sacred shibboleths of black identitarianism, in addressing “the myth of systemic racism,”  he highlights the need for the hypothesis to be tested, drawing on two population studies, that disaggregate blackness as a homogenous category.  In illustrating the constancy of systemic racism across blackness between immigrants from the Caribbean and African-Americans, Hughes points to Thomas Sowell’s study in the 1970s, which shows how the second generation Caribbean population living in the same city as black Americans, were earning 58 percent more, both being subjected to whatever level of systemic racism that existed.  In this instance both experienced  discrimination to whatever degree by whites, and to whatever system one supposes is holding them back― is effecting them both equally.  The two populations may differ in many ways (culturally, educationally, economically) for any number of unquantifiable reasons, there are a cluster of attributes that make one population different to the other. In Myths About Minorities (1979), Thomas Sowell writes:

Black West Indians are sometimes said to be treated preferentially by employers, who pick them out from other blacks by their accent, or by their place of birth or schooling. But if this were the reason why West Indians earn far higher incomes than other blacks, it would apply much less to second-generation West Indians who have less of an accent (or no accent) and are born and educated in the United States. This whole line of reasoning collapses like a house of cards under the weight of census data for second-generation West Indians—who have higher incomes than Anglo-Saxons, and higher representation in professional occupations.

The facts about occupation are just as far from popular (or media) beliefs as the facts about income. About 14 per cent of employed Americans are in the professions, or in comparable technical and similar fields. Despite the reiterated theme of color barriers or exclusions in the professions, at least four non-white groups have higher than average representation in these high-level occupations: black West Indians (15 percent); Japanese (18 per cent); Filipinos (23 per cent); and Chinese (25 per cent). Black Americans have below-average representation (8 per cent), but white Puerto Ricans have even lower representation (5 percent). There are many reasons why various groups have differing representations in the professions, but the supposedly decisive effect of color as depicted by the media is, again, simply not reflected in the census data. Somewhere down the road, we will have to come to grips with the hard fact that color is not as all-determining as we once thought—or as civil-rights activists still insist—and that cultural factors will have to be dealt with much more seriously.

In a similar dynamic in the UK, Sewell and Reynolds (2019) observe, cultural factors are important in understanding these differences, suggesting that cultural groups, or entities we refer to as communities are not identical in behavioural patterns that are inculcated, and wherever there are disparities in certain outcomes, it’s not possible that culture accounts in part, or for most of that disparity.  The converse is true for second and third generation British Afro-Caribbean’s in relation to the ‘out of school factors’ touched on previously, impacting behavioural outcomes for the disproportionate numbers of black boys in the UK, represented in school  figures, for exclusion and crime.  There are similarities between UK and US studies in the omission of these clusters of attributes that highlight differences between population groups.  Perhaps we ought to pay more attention to this bias in studies emphasising systemic (or institutional) racism as the exclusive causal factor for racial disparities:

National statistics reveal that among those with a partner, 73 per cent of whites are in formal marriage compared with only half of Caribbeans. Among those who have married, Caribbeans are twice as likely to have divorced or separated as whites across all age groups under the age of 60. We need to understand these matters and find solutions, otherwise we will continue to see a disproportionate amount of violent crime committed by black young males, higher exclusion rates from school, and the lesser-told story of the high levels of mental illness amongst African-Caribbean males.

[…] These boys kicked up against us. It was like we were their dads who had walked out of their lives without any explanation and suddenly we demanded their respect. According to research: “A father who is dead may be carried within the child’s mind as a very alive figure depending on the mother’s way of talking about the father … A father who is physically present might nevertheless be lived as symbolically lost, absent or dead in the child’s inner world” (McDougall, 1989, p 209).

We are currently witnessing a revival in the kind of  public policy making that relies upon abstract invocations of ‘community’ and activist claims of what constitutes ‘cultural citizenship’.  Rather like the current discourse on intersectional social justice,  and reminiscent of the American sociologist, Amitai Etzoni’s concept of  communitarianism. Rose, highlights some of the problems with these claims:

Communitarian empowerment of ‘ethnic’ and gender pluralities presupposes and fixes a given distribution of ‘identities’ in a radically dynamic society. ‘Empowerment’ legitimises the potential tyranny of the local or particular community in its relations with its members and at the boundary with competing interests. It is the abused who become the abusers, no one and no community is exempt from the paradoxes of ’empowerment’. (p.5)

Granted this particular snapshot of racial disparities in the UK context, is not exhaustive, it might be wise under the present circumstances, to also pay close attention to the particular brand of anti-racism that is promoted by the philanthropic crowd, and to whom it is addressing its truth claims.  From members of the monarchy to celebrities; multinational corporations to big tech companies; from Anglican Bishops to evangelical leaders, they all extol the virtues of dismantling racism.  In this cultural moment, anti-racism, replete with all the rhetoric of ersatz religion, deifies the victims of anti-black racism.  Detrimental to its supposed beneficiaries, it has the tendency to dehistoricise, decontextualise, and therefore dehumanise the experiences of black folks―their grassroot community struggles and movements. 

This is evident in the type of brand of anti-racism, bequeathed to us by its African-American founders―Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi, of the BLM organisation, set up in 2013, after the shooting of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman. Increasingly, its radical Marxist ideology, has come under intense critical scrutiny.

In the UK, a disparate network of organisations inspired by the BLM US organisation have been set up.  The most visible BLM UK entity, set up in 2016, is endorsed by its original American founders, and is arguably, the most famous branch to date, with over 78.1k followers on Twitter.  At the time of writing,  the group has no discernible base, or leadership, and no visible website. With the uptick of BLM’s popularity in the US,  and in the throes of world-wide protests against racism, celebrity endorsements, and around the clock mainstream media attention, has brought with it, somewhat of a revival for BLM UK.  Its Go Fund Me page, where it has raised £1 million, bears testament to its new found respectability among white liberal elites. Organisers state their aims are “to dismantle imperialism, capitalism, white-supremacy, patriarchy, and the state structures that disproportionately and systematically harm Black people in Britain and around the world.”


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